This weekend, Americans will rally all over the country to speak out against what is being called the “War on Women.” Much of this “war” springs from fundamentalist Christian groups and the Roman Catholic hierarchy, which are determined to control the reproductive lives of Americans.
Naturally, this hits women the hardest. They are the ones who get pregnant, after all.
Americans United has endorsed the rallies, and I’ll be speaking at one here in Washington, D.C. When I mentioned this the other day on Facebook, a conservative friend took issue. The war on women, he insisted, is a media creation and isn’t real.
That assertion might surprise the women living in states where legislators have passed laws requiring women seeking abortions to first sit through paternalistic lectures or undergo an invasive ultrasound. It might surprise the women living in states where pharmacists have been given a right to refuse to fill birth-control prescriptions. It might surprise the women who watched the U.S. Senate deliberate (and defeat, thankfully) a law that would have given any employer a “religious freedom right” to cut off contraceptive coverage for any employee.
It might also surprise the women who live in states where taxpayer funding is being shifted away health clinics that offer comprehensive care for women toward “crisis pregnancy” centers that are little more than proselytizing agencies for fundamentalist Christianity.
Sofia Resnick of The American Independent has written a stunning article exposing these centers. It’s a long piece but well worth your time. Read it and be outraged. Your tax dollars may be funding these centers.
Resnick writes that at least seven states – Texas, Florida, Kansas, Missouri, Minnesota, North Dakota and Pennsylvania – steer public aid to these facilities. A few have even received indirect federal funding through the stimulus package passed in 2009.
“Collectively, for the current fiscal year, they are allocating approximately $17 million to these anti-abortion centers,” she writes.
The centers are not supposed to use public money to promote religion, but let’s get real here. These places are owned, operated and staffed by people who believe the Bible says abortion is sinful and must be stopped. They can easily preach that message to visitors and say that portion is paid for with private donations.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that women can simply avoid these centers. In South Dakota and other states, pre-abortion “counseling” is mandatory. Several Christian centers are on the state-approved list to provide it. (I’m trying to imagine what would happen to a bill that required men to get religious counseling before undergoing a vasectomy or getting a Viagra prescription filled.)
These centers impose religious qualifications on all staff and volunteers. Here are a few examples from the Independent’s story:
* Care Net in Rapid City, S.D., says all staff, volunteers and board members “are expected to know Christ as their Savior and Lord.” Applicants must affirm a fundamentalist statement of faith.
* The Life Center in Midland, Texas, requires even its receptionist to abide by its “Common Christian Beliefs” and provide a church reference.
* PregnancyCare of Cincinnati wants to hire a manager who can demonstrate “mature Christian faith” who will “set a good personal example of Christ-centered servant leadership.”
* True Life Choice in Orlando, Fla., is looking for a director who is “committed Christian who demonstrates a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.”
As Resnick notes, “While federal law prohibits employment discrimination based on religious beliefs, there is an exception for religious organizations – a category that seems to include the Rapid City center and other [crisis pregnancy centers]. And in many cases, it’s perfectly legal for these groups to receive taxpayer funding, even if they practice religious hiring discrimination.”
This is more fallout from the ill-conceived “faith-based” initiative. For years, Americans United has warned that allowing sectarian organizations to take public funds and discriminate in hiring on religious grounds is unfair. This policy, combined with the rabid determination of lawmakers to control the private health matters of the people, has created this perfect storm.
The first step is to cut off all public money to these “crisis” clinics. They have the right to exist, but they should be treated like what they are, religious ministries, and denied tax aid. Let them get by on voluntary donations.
The second step is to end all laws mandating that women consult with these centers before they exercise a legal right to abortion. This is paternalistic and likely unconstitutional. (Portions of the South Dakota law are already being challenged in court.)
And here’s the final step: Recognizing that the war on women is real, that it’s led by powerful and ultra-conservative religious groups and that it’s spreading.
What’s our side’s best weapon in this “war”? It’s a proper application of separation of church and state.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans (maybe even millions) will rally for that cause this weekend. Come and add your voice to that growing chorus.